Lovers of digital literature are used to reading on a hand-sized interface. E-book readers for iPhone, iPad, and Android abound, as well as dedicated reading devices like the Kindle and Nook. For those looking to read an ePub on a larger screen, we’ll look at the best Mac e-book reader apps available in 2021.
If you want to escape from all the Mac e-book reader apps associated with bookstores and DRM, Kitabu will set you free. It’s a solid competitor for stalwarts like iBooks, offering an attractive and customizable interface. You can read books in any font on your computer, with adjustable text size, three background colors and up to three columns. But while you can add bookmarks, you won’t find any annotation options within the application, meaning it’s not as powerful for taking notes or highlighting text as some of the other applications we’ve reviewed. It also only handles ePub files and can’t manage any other file type, which is a bummer.
Calibre includes a Mac e-book reader, but it’s mostly for Mac e-book management software. It’s a powerful, if somewhat unfriendly, software tool designed for managing a large library of digital books. It comes with lots of tools for editing book metadata, adjusting things like author names, cover images, and publication data. You’ll also find some tools that can help you remove DRM, though results can be hit-or-miss. Calibre can build and host an OPDS e-book server, allowing you to share files to mobile devices from your Mac, and search dozens of e-book stores simultaneously to find just the book you’re searching for.
The e-book reader in Calibre can open just about any kind of digital text document, including .mobi and ePub files, and then re-export them in other file types. The reader app itself isn’t visually appealing or customizable as Kitabu, but enterprising users can heavily customize its appearance using the user stylesheet function. This lets you style the reader’s output with CSS. There are also some basic font and color adjustments available, but two columns seem off-limits for basic tools.
Bookreader is extremely flexible, opening pretty much every text-based book format in existence. This includes ePub as well as MOBI, PRC, AZW, and PDF. While the app is flexible, the interface is a little dated-looking. It uses a very old-style book image to frame what you’re reading, which doesn’t really mesh with macOS’s newer, non-skeuomorphic design. The app does allow for customization of basics like font, text size, and background color, but the book frame is here to stay. It also supports bookmarks and colored highlights, as well as in-context notes for marginalia. All of these can be viewed in a context menu together, letting you zoom to your annotations and read your notes without having to find them first, though that is a pretty standard feature in e-book apps.
Adobe Digital Editions
Adobe Digital Editions is another great e-book reader option for the Mac. For one, it can open ePub and PDF files without complaint. If you copy files to the app’s library, you can also use some basic highlighting and annotation tools. It supports Adobe’s own DRM and could be the official reading app for libraries that don’t use OverDrive. It’s far from a crowd favorite, but it is free and it is flexible.
macOS users are fortunate enough to have one of the best Mac e-book reader apps installed on their computers from the start. Books is an excellently designed application, supporting all the necessities of an e-book reader. It’s significantly customizable and includes strong highlighting and annotation tools. The app supports columns and page-turning on a trackpad swipe and connects with the pretty-okay iBooks store. Sync across all your Apple devices is a great benefit too, so you can start a book on your subway ride home and pick it up on your Mac later. You can also import ePub and PDF files from around the web, provided they’re DRM-free. Opening other e-book file types is outside Books’ reach, however.
Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader is the direct competitor to Apple’s Books. It doesn’t support ePub files, but it does support Amazon’s own semi-proprietary .mobi file extension. It offers the best support for books purchased directly from the Amazon Kindle store, and that’s where you’ll find the most customization options. The degree of interface customization is somewhat limited, however, with granular-looking sliders providing only three to five levels of actual tweaking. But annotations are excellent, with a notebook feature for marginalia, great highlighting tools, and Amazon-provided backup to sync across devices and keep your progress updated. You can also see what other users are highlighting if that’s a feature you’d enjoy. If you like reading e-books, you probably can’t avoid using the Kindle software at one point or another. For being forced on you, it’s not actually that awful.
If you mainly use ePub as your e-book file type, then FBReader is a great choice to consider. It has several amazing features like an extensive collection of e-books that users will gain access to. Aside from ePub, it also actually supports other file formats like .doc and .txt. Some of its customization options include bookmarking, page-turning effects, and several colors. If you store your e-books in the cloud, you’ll be pleased to know that FBReader also offers sync features. Best of all, this ePub software is free for anyone to download. In case you’re on the lookout for new books, it also has a built-in e-book store where you can purchase e-books.
The NOOK is also a budding e-book reader worth checking out. For one, it’s supported not only in macOS but also in Windows. Some of its customization features that might entice you are bookmarking, annotations, and highlighting. If you’re pretty heavy on taking notes while reading, the NOOK is certainly a great e-book reader to start with. In addition, you can share files between devices, which is not common in most e-book readers. You can also use it to access millions of e-books and digital publications. File import may take some time but it’s definitely worth the wait considering all the features and tools you’ll get if you use NOOK.
Stanza supports different file formats like PDF, RTF, and PalmDoc. It’s free to download on macOS and also offers a file-sharing feature. You get a nice, flexible layout and an option of viewing and scrolling your e-books vertically or horizontally. It also offers multicolumn if you’re more comfortable reading in that kind of layout. This app also enables users to export files to other devices in different kinds of file formats, depending on what you need. Do note that when it comes to customization, it’s not really at par compared to the other e-book readers on this list. However, if you’re not really big on customization, then Stanza is a great option to consider.
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First published in February 2018; updated November 2021